Not Eating Out in New York
From 2006 to 2008, Cathy made a commitment to stay away from eating out in restaurants, having street food and take out, so she could explore other avenues of not eating out. She wrote a book about her experience called, The Art of Eating In. More recently, Cathy published a cookbook that looked into her mother’s home cooking roots called, The Food of Taiwan. In addition to her writing, Cathy has been interviewing guests on her weekly podcast, Eat Your Words, on Heritage Radio Network since 2009.
I’m so happy to have Cathy Erway of Not Eating Out in New York with me here on the show today.
(*All photos below are Cathy’s.)
On Committing to Not Eating Out in New York:
It was a series of frustrations, like a bad restaurant meal here and there. Who hasn’t had that and then felt like, “Gosh, I could make something much better. Let me just figure out how to get into the habit of it.” I think that’s the hard part, is getting into the habit of it. It’s a routine switch rather than like a food or…I think it’s eating preference for many people. So that happened. And then at the same time I wanted to start a food blog. At this time, 2006, most of the websites and blogs that I saw were all about restaurant gossip, the hottest new chef, this opening, that closing, and all that stuff.
I wanted to do something different because I didn’t think that food has to be about the industry of restaurants necessarily, which is fun, but I also didn’t have the budget for it, too. Who does? When you’re young and you’re into food and you drop $50 plus on a meal. So I decided to make my blog about home cooking. And then I want to give myself a challenge and give the blog something new to talk about.
On Things She Had to Get Used to With This Project:
Well, the social dilemmas of not eating out in New York were actually some of the most fun adventures that I had. But you have to try to bring people together in a communal situation that doesn’t have to do with restaurants. So that meant for me at the time, potlucks, dinner parties. And then I got really into throwing cook-offs and going to them and participating in all sorts of community events. There were supper clubs and all these really fun, amazing, community events to do. So that became my social life, and I met a lot of my friends through those.
On Dumpster Diving:
I wanted to explore all the ins and outs of what not eating out in New York meant. I was interested in foraging in the park. I learned that many people were doing this, gathering dandelion greens for a salad and this and that. I also heard about freeganism. The concept is basically reusing.
So if you have ever picked up some books that you saw on the street or a chair, this is pretty much like that, except its good food that is being wasted by a supermarket or maybe it’s a restaurant or something like that. But for the most part the freegan circles that I ran into and explored and went on walks and trash diving, it was supermarkets and also bakeries, too. Bakeries have so much leftover at the end of the day. If you walk into a nice bakery and you see all those bagels or croissants or something, at the end of day, they’re going into a dumpster.
On Her Book, The Art of Eating In:
I was writing the blog, Not Eating Out In New York, for a couple of years when I got approached by agents. And at that point I didn’t have an idea for a book. Cookbook didn’t seem quite right, but the agent wanted me to write a memoir, but I didn’t really have the story yet. I felt like I was just getting into it, I was just learning about all these interesting communities like a freegan. So, I wasn’t quite there yet. I really sat on the idea for about a year or so until I began writing this book.
It was great. It was definitely written almost in real time too, but it pushed me to explore more folks who were doing really interesting things with food.
On What She Enjoys About Eating In:
I think that people have this misconception like it’s really lonely and it’s sad and they have this image of a person in their small insufficient kitchen with their insufficient cookware and so forth. So to get started, I would have a dinner party with a few good friends who you don’t mind just getting a little messy in the kitchen with, and maybe messing up some dishes with.
And you’ll see it’s a lot of fun. And what will happen usually is that it becomes this domino effect and your other friends will want to host the dinner next, and then, you will go from there. You’ll want to also improve upon something that you made last time. So it has an infectious quality to it. I think that’s a fun way to really get into cooking.
The funny thing is that the habit actually is easier once you’re cooking more often because you have not only just more know-how about what works when you’re cooking, but you have all these leftover odds and ends in your fridge. It actually becomes easier to just heat up that rice and then make fried rice with half a head of broccoli and something else rather than order out. So convenience, it can actually happen more often when you’re cooking.
On Her Book, The Food of Taiwan:
It took a long time, a lot longer than I thought. So The Food of Taiwan I think is something that a lot of folks who are interested in food would find super delicious and interesting. All the flavors that go into this wonderful tropical island and all the cultures that have contributed to it is really interesting. It’s where my mother grew up. But growing up and even to this day as a young person in New York, little is talked about with regards to Taiwan and especially Taiwanese food.
When I was shopping this book around originally, this was in 2011. In fact, a lot of awkward conversations would arise when people just didn’t really know what Taiwan was or where it was or why we should talk about the food of Taiwan, like, “How is it different from other Chinese food?” I would hear all the time, and I’m like, well, people are starting to understand a little bit more about the different regions throughout Asia, not just in China, and it’s also catching on in restaurants.
You see people getting into Thai food, you see people getting into Korean food, you see all sorts of niches. So it took a lot of convincing and a lot of patience and perseverance, but finally we made it happen.
On The Hardest Part About Writing The Book:
The hardest part for me was choosing about 100 recipes that I felt would really exemplify Taiwanese food. Because I don’t really have much of a precedent to go on. This is why I was hoping it would be the most comprehensive English language cookbook about Taiwanese food. I have seen some cookbooks in Taiwan, of course, but they tend to be street foods or home style foods, and I wanted to combine both home style and street food to show what is really celebrated on the island right now in food.
That was really difficult for me to whittle it down to 100 recipes and what’s the right one and all that stuff, and then of course, write all the recipes for it. My favorite part, of course, was writing the intro and the culture and the history lessons in it.
On What a Traditional Taiwanese Meal Would Look Like:
Taiwanese are actually really seasonal and they take pride in local specialties and seasonal specialties. So it really depends on the time of the year. For instance, people love really fresh, pure and not overly seasoned specialties like fresh bamboo shoots. You wouldn’t want to mess with that with too much sauce or anything like that. You just want to taste that purity of the wonderful ingredient.
Or it could be bitter melon, for instance, something really pure. So I think that to harmonize with the meal, you want one really shining star vegetable like that on the plate. And I would say that you would want a nice rich heavy meat. There’s a lot of pork belly used in Taiwan and they do it very, very well. I would do like a red braised pork belly, nice little dish. You would also typically serve that with something a little sour and piquant, like maybe some pickles, pickled cabbage, for instance, nice little crunch and contrast.
And then I would do maybe a more simmered, braised dish. So three-cup chicken is really great or three-cup squid, which is similar. And this is a clay pot simmered dish with lots of ginger, garlic, and chilies and basil at the end. With those three things, I think you can have a wonderful meal, just right there.
On Some Common Ingredients in Taiwanese Cooking:
I think that one thing they do have a lot of is little fried shallots, which is an excellent garnish. They’re crunchy and they add a little savory topping to anything. It could just be a pile of sauteed greens. Sprinkle those on or some crushed peanuts would do a similar trick. White pepper is pretty widely used in dishes and five-spice powder, but that’s more to marinate things or cook into a stew. Aside from that, there’s really not that many crazy ingredients. This is not a too heavily spiced cuisine, it is not ultra spicy, it is not ultra sweet, you don’t need all these crazy tastes. So it’s pretty accessible.
On Her Podcast:
Heritage Radio Network is a wonderful nonprofit podcast radio station. At first it was just a really random outgrowth of Heritage Foods USA. And our station was and still is at a little converted shipping container in the backyard of Roberta’s Pizza in Bushwick, Brooklyn. So over the years, that little shipping container has gotten heat and air conditioning. We have also become an actual nonprofit and we have many more shows than what was the case when the station began in 2009. I think there were like five shows.
I happened to be a guest Snacky Tunes with Greg and Darin Bresnitz. And then I had this idea for a show. After one conversation, it just happened and it’s been going since. It’s been really fun. I find it a great way to talk to people.
On Some of Her Favorite Podcast Episodes:
One of my favorite heroes in food Sandor Ellix Katz joined us for an episode. He wrote, The Art of Fermentation and Wild Fermentation. He’s just such an amazing brain. It was so great to get him on air. So definitely check that out. And I really enjoyed interviewing an old female restaurateur legend named Nora Pouillon, and she opened the first certified organic restaurant in the 70s. She was just a real pioneer in the food movement. So it was lovely to have her on air. She talked about her memoir.
In the past, the show has taken so many twists and turns. So nowadays I focus on food and books as the premise. But in the past, I used to focus on food and dating. So if you scroll down throughout the archives, you’ll see some fun ones.
The Pressure Cooker:
Which food shows or cooking shows do you watch?
I don’t really watch any. Sorry.
What are some food blogs or food websites we have to know about?
Who do you follow on Pinterest, Instagram, or Facebook or Snapchat that make you happy?
There are so many Twitter accounts out there and they always make me happy when people are joking about this and that. Lucky Peach has some good posts. I’ll give them that credit for it and they have some great photos too. So let’s say Lucky Peach.
What is the most unusual or treasured item in your kitchen?
Well, I do have these old molds that you’re supposed to put mooncakes in and I love them. I don’t really use them because they’re beautifully hand carved wooden molds with all of these ornate patterns. They would show up on a mooncake on the surface. I actually tried to use them but the dough gets stuck, but I love having them around. I usually put something inside and just leave it there, but yeah, they’re just beautiful old cooking tools.
Name one ingredient you used to dislike but now you love.
For me that would be cheese. I am still trying to like many types of cheese. So the stinkier, the blue cheese, I’m not quite there yet. But since my 20s, I’ve been trying to eat more, trying to like more cheeses. And I know that this is crazy when it comes to most of the foodies that I know. It’s always been my Achilles heel, not really having a taste for cheese growing up. I don’t know why.
What are a few cookbooks that make your life better?
I love Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking. I love Elizabeth Andoh’s Washoku, home style Japanese cooking. I learned so much from these books. They’re so comprehensive and they take such a deep dive into all these classic recipes from a culture that I didn’t grow up eating. I definitely love eating. So those are some really great staples. But on that similar note, I love to collect really great books about fill-in-the-blank regions. I have a really great book about Portugal right now, I have a great book about Senegal, all through the lens of food. So bring it on. Every single country I want to collect a cookbook of.
What song or album just makes you want to cook?
Lately, I’ve been listening to lot of Latin Boogaloo, so I will say Joe Bataan’s Riot! right now. It’s just so much fun, it’s groovy, 60s Latin, New York jazz. It’s awesome.